Back in 1997, the parks departments for Clark County and the city of Vancouver were merged into the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department. The consolidation yielded efficiencies in budgeting as well as service.A lot has changed in 16 years.
The Board of County Commissioners and Vancouver city councilors, rather than working harmoniously to improve our community, now talk more about each other and at each other instead of with each other. Often, the talk is mere sniping at their separate meetings.
So it comes as no surprise that the joint parks department not only is a matter of contention, but the interlocal agreement could be unraveling. We can’t blame county commissioners for seeking lower payments to the city for administering the parks department. Times are tough, and as Erik Hidle reported in Thursday’s Columbian, the commissioners wonder if the $880,000 paid annually can be reduced. Good for them, for wondering.
And we can’t fault Vancouver city officials who have responded with offers to cut about $58,000, perhaps more, from that total.
But it would be great if both groups would set aside political posturing and collaborate on the important quality-of-life issue of local parks. That’s one reason they were elected.
County Commissioner David Madore, according to Hidle’s story, is leading the advocacy to modify the contract, citing the need for further savings. And if Madore is interested in dissolving the agreement with the city, he owes it to local taxpayers, parks patrons and both governing boards to specify those savings, at least as projection. Such statistics were missing from the recent move by Madore and Commissioner Tom Mielke to waive county development fees. That action is proceeding on a wing and a prayer, with the expectation by Madore and Mielke that growth in sales tax revenues might cover the losses from waiving from development fees. But no one knows for sure.
There is the valid argument that even more consolidation would be beneficial. Why not let the county take control of all parks within county boundaries? That would be worth studying, in the unlikely case that the various city councils would be willing to consider such a proposal.
But it becomes even more unlikely because of (1) the growing animosity between county commissioners and Vancouver city councilors and (2) the volatility that Madore’s election has brought to local politics at all levels ranging from cities to the county and even higher.
In Madore’s defense, this is nothing new. Former County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris and former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard used to have some epic, bitter battles as each sought to defend the interests of their respective constituencies. And most local residents seem to think no less of both Morris and Pollard for having those spats, vicious as they sometimes were. A few years later, we can’t really identify an overall winner between the two.
This plot will thicken as Vancouver officials hunt for more reductions for the county. If and when those modifications are found, the drama will intensify even more. Both groups will need to decide if they can tolerate working together in joint oversight of the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department.
We’d like to think the quality of local parks will not suffer as a result of the tough talk to come. But we’re not so positive about that.